South African cinemagoers enjoy Hollywood movies soon after, and sometimes at the same time, they are released in the United States.
But have you ever wondered how a movie gets to your local theatre, and where it comes from?
What about the pre-movie advertisements and trailers – are they part of the movie, or streamed separately from a different source?
South African cinema chain Nu Metro answered these questions, speaking to MyBroadband about what it takes to get a movie from Hollywood to one of its theatres.
Pass the 700GB hard drive
The movie experience viewers see is divided into two parts: advertisements, trailers and logos; and the movie, or “feature”.
The adverts, trailers, and logos measure between 20MB and 50GB, and are sent to an FTP server in each cinema from a master FTP server in Nu Metro’s head office. These servers get updated every six hours with new content.
From the cinema’s FTP server, the content is loaded into library media servers – with a minimum storage of 10TB – in the theatre.
Once the playlists and schedules have been loaded and checked by theatre management software, the content gets transferred to screen servers – normally 1TB – in each cinema.
The movie itself is too big to transfer over the FTP network – up to 700GB in 1080p – and this “digital cinema package” gets delivered to Nu Metro from the movie studios in hard drives.
Once the hard drives reach Nu Metro, they are sent to each of its cinemas along with the linked code keys – which are only valid for a specific cinema on a particular date and during a specified time frame.
The hard drives are then loaded into the cinema’s library media servers and sent to the screen servers. The movies are in a Jpeg2K and Digital Cinema Package format.
Security keys required
The digital cinema packages Nu Metro receive on the hard drives are encrypted and watermarked. Decryption of the movie takes place within the cinema’s projector before the picture files reach the light engine of the device.
Electronic cards only accessible to certified technicians are used in the process, while codes and keys are required for maintenance of the system – which issues time stamps when accessed.
All the digital content also sits behind firewalls to prevent tampering.
Putting it on the big screen
Once all the content is loaded and security procedures executed, it’s time for the show to start.
Nu Metro’s 2K and 4K projectors are capable of playing 2D and 3D content, and can handle High Frame Rate (HFR) playback. “Standard” films play at 24 frames per second, while HFR scenes playback at 48fps or 60fps.
The cinema chain uses different Barco projectors based on the length of the cinema, screen size, and whether the movie will be in 3D or not. Projectors in use are the DP2K-10S, DP2K-12C, and DP4K-23B models.
The devices use Osram xenon lamps lamps between 2kW and 6.5kW, while all the DP2K projectors are 2K (HD). The DP4K can handle both 2K and 4K content.
The 4K projectors, which playback content in UHD, are only in Nu Metro’s Scene Xtreme cinemas – which also include the new Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro 11.1 sound systems.
These projectors play back movies on screens which range in size from 5m wide, to 20m wide and bigger.
The projectors, house lights, masking, video, and audio systems are fully automated and work via cue marks placed on the playlist. The playlist and scheduling is done by a person, and there is human oversight in the projection boxes.
How a movie gets from Hollywood to a local movie screen
The infographic below details how a movie gets to a Nu Metro theatre screen in South Africa.